Zombieland (2009) directed by Ruben Fleischer stars Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus), Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee), Emma Stone (Wichita), Abagail Breslin (Little Rock), and Amber Heard (406).
To survive the Zombie Apocalypse you have to stick to the rules. That's what lead character Columbus tells us during the opening credits. Some of the rules are “beware of bathrooms”, “fasten your seatbelt”, and “don't be a hero”, and of course make sure to remember the “double tap”.
He also explains that he's a coward with IBS and therefore an unlikely survivor. Or, maybe that's why it makes the best kind of sense that he does survive. He says himself that he used to act like people were already zombies and now that they are he kind of misses people. The voiceover narration in this is spot-on dry gallows humor funny. Columbus leaves his apartment after the neighbor girl in 406 that he's been quietly pining over tries to eat him and sets out to find his parents who are in Columbus, Ohio. On the road he meets Tallahassee played by a superbly funny Woody Harrelson in a cowboy hat and snakeskin jacket. Tallahassee mostly just wants to kill zombies and maybe find himself a Twinkie.
They are an unlikely pair, Tallahassee describing killing zombies as his calling, and the antsy, high-strung Columbus, but they make sense. When they get taken in and conned by Wichita and Little Rock, a sister duo that seems to have been running cons long before the zombie thing happened, the duo becomes an uneasy quartet. The girls are heading for an amusement park and that's where this becomes a kind of on-the-road tale, but with a much higher body count.
Let me take a minute to give the zombies their due here. They are fast, ugly, oozing body fluids from all orifices, and very, very hungry. Luckily, they don't have the brains to go with all that appetite. This version of zombies is the viral, deadly kind and we're in the early days of the pandemic here so they're still very much active. Survivors are few and far between, hence the idea of replacing actual names with towns for the lead characters. In terms of pure zombie value for money you get your dollar's worth.
Even though this is played largely for comedy there are certainly other things going on here too. Columbus, the nerd loner without friends has a kind of family at the end of all this. Tallahassee, who is a serious zombie ass-kicker, has lost his only immediate family, and the two young ladies make a family of sorts with Wichita as the protective older sister, despite her femme fatale side. It's about family and interpersonal relationships in its more serious moments. But mostly, it's just fun. A little scary and a little off-beat and very well-done visually. Shaun of the Dead is the obvious parallel here, mixing horror and comedy and doing it well, which is a really difficult thing to pull off.
The amusement park sequence is all kinds of fun, if you like a little random slaughter, and it actually manages to be creepy in there somewhere too. The comedy trumps the horror, though, even if there certainly is enough gore to merit some cringing. Tallahassee pretty much turns the whole thing into an arcade game version of shooting zombies.
Zombieland gets extra props for the opening credits, which include a slow-motion zombie killing spree montage accompanied by Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. I can’t help but approve of that.